Rebecca Sherburn - voice expert

Seated Alignment

How to sing when seated? Learn it now...

In this video, Dr. Sherburn shows you the right position to sing when seated.

Released on December 6, 2017

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Have you ever heard a choral conductor ask you to sit on the front of a chair when you sing? It turns out there are really good reasons for this. I'm Dr. Rebecca Sherburn, the Director of Vocal Studies at Chapman University in Southern California. And this is the third in a series of talks called "How the Voice Works" sponsored by Virtual Sheet Music. So, today we're gonna talk about seated alignment, which is, of course, very similar to standing alignment. If we lean back against the back of the chair, it's difficult to get the torso aligned. And, generally, we end up sort of slumped over. So, this may be one of the reasons choral conductors ask us to sit on the front of the chair. Even though we're seated, the torso still has to be lined up.

So, let's go over the imaginary plumb line idea from the previous video. Get on the front of the chair. Look for the imaginary plumb line at the ceiling above your head. There it is. The plumb line passes from the ceiling through the center of the head, to the center of the heart, from the center of the heart, through the center of the pelvis and straight down through the front legs of the chair. Now, rather than your feet bearing your weight, you should feel your sit bones against the chair bearing your weight. Walk around a little bit. See if you can find that. Your feet are just there for balance. Keep your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. It's best not to cross your legs or ankles because that would cause us to favor one side or the other, and it gets us out of alignment.

I think another reason choral conductors ask us to sit on the edge of the chair is that this position allows the diaphragm to descend or flatten out so that we can get a good, deep breath for singing. The diaphragm is under the lungs and is roughly shaped like an upside-down bowl. In the center, it arches up higher in the chest than on the outside. And when we inhale, its shape flattens out, pushing the internal organs slightly down and forward. Like that. If we're resting against the back of a chair, it's possible that the spine will round, and the sternum will fall. And this position prevents a good deep breath. There isn't room in the torso for the internal organs to move forward and down as the diaphragm flattens out. So, just for fun, roll yourself up into a little ball and try to deep breath. How did that work for you? Now sit on the edge of the chair, feet flat, nicely aligned and take a deep breath, and you'll feel that this works so much better.

For most of us, sitting on the front edge of the chair will allow the knees to be lower than the hips which leaves room in the lower abdomen for a good, deep breath. This average chair works out just fine for me as an average sized person. But if you're tall or have very long legs, you may have to find a way to get your knees lower than your hips when you sit, and this can be challenging. A very tall person's legs would be up like this, in this particular chair. So, here are a couple of ideas to help taller singers get their knees lower than their hips when seated. Place books or boards, lifting the chair up like this. It just makes a taller chair or, even easier, a couple of pillows or some foam. This brings the seat up again, making a taller or higher chair for a taller singer. For children or adults whose feet don't touch the ground in a seated position, we need a shorter chair. Because with the feet dangling above the floor, the alignment of the torso could be compromised.

So, if a shorter chair isn't available, we have to provide a platform under their feet. Here I've just used two yoga matts stacked on one another. But you could build a special platform out of wood or use books for them to rest their feet on. In some European countries, orchestral musicians are actually measured for a chair, and it's built to fit their body. It's their own chair. So, to recap, sit on the front of the chair with the torso in plumb line alignment, feet flat on the floor, knees lower than the hips. In this position, the diaphragm can flatten out, and we can get a good, deep breath for singing. It actually really feels good to sit up straight. Because just like a good standing alignment, your bones are now bearing your weight, and your muscles are free to help with exhalation. Give it a try. It's fun. Bye.
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